U.S., Korea net dozens in drug trafficking sting

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U.S., Korea net dozens in drug trafficking sting

Prosecutors are zeroing in on Korean gangs involved in large-scale drug trafficking.

In cooperation with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office last week detained 46 alleged smugglers and seized 307 grams of methamphetamine and 484 grams of marijuana brought into the country since last December.

Prosecutors did not elaborate on the total volume of drugs they believe the ring distributed.

In a separate case, prosecutors said Monday that they have detained three smugglers, including one surnamed Seo, 48, and put 12 other Korean gangsters and Japanese yakuza syndicate members on the wanted list on charges of allegedly smuggling drugs into Korea.

In early January, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration discovered 48.2 grams of methamphetamine inside international express cargo heading to Korea from Mexico via the United States. The drugs had been hidden inside a photo album.

Rather than immediately confiscating the cache, the DEA called the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office in Seoul to confirm the drugs’ exact distribution route.

The countries agreed upon a joint investigation, and decided to allow the drugs to enter Korea and follow their trail.

Two weeks later, prosecutors arrested Seo, a gang member, on charges of smuggling.

After interrogation, prosecutors said they learned the trafficking was organized by a former Korean gang member surnamed Moon, 40. Moon lived in Los Angeles until he was deported from America in 2001.

Moon has allegedly smuggled methamphetamine into Korea from Mexico through a third country some 10 times since last October. Prosecutors cannot currently confirm Moon’s whereabouts, or whether he is currently in Korea at all.

Prosecutor Kim Ju-hyun said the crackdown follows recent intensified efforts to eradicate illegal gambling and the sex trade in Korea.

As those industries tightened, “The Korean gangsters have been creating new sources of income,” Kim said.

Kim also said that it is rare to see Mexican-made drugs smuggled into Korea, rather than to the United States and Europe.

In the past, gangs have used curling irons and steam irons to hide small amounts of drugs and deliver them through express shipment, prosecutors said. In addition, some drug runners enter Korea with the goods hidden in their underpants.

By Hong Hye-jin [smartpower@joongang.co.kr]
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